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The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

142 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674076082
ISBN-10: 0674076087
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Editorial Reviews Review

When it was first published in France in 1997, Le livre noir du Communisme touched off a storm of controversy that continues to rage today. Even some of his contributors shied away from chief editor Stéphane Courtois's conclusion that Communism, in all its many forms, was morally no better than Nazism; the two totalitarian systems, Courtois argued, were far better at killing than at governing, as the world learned to its sorrow.

Communism did kill, Courtois and his fellow historians demonstrate, with ruthless efficiency: 25 million in Russia during the Bolshevik and Stalinist eras, perhaps 65 million in China under the eyes of Mao Zedong, 2 million in Cambodia, millions more Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America--an astonishingly high toll of victims. This freely expressed penchant for homicide, Courtois maintains, was no accident, but an integral trait of a philosophy, and a practical politics, that promised to erase class distinctions by erasing classes and the living humans that populated them. Courtois and his contributors document Communism's crimes in numbing detail, moving from country to country, revolution to revolution. The figures they offer will likely provoke argument, if not among cliometricians then among the ideologically inclined. So, too, will Courtois's suggestion that those who hold Lenin, Trotsky, and Ho Chi Minh in anything other than contempt are dupes, witting or not, of a murderous school of thought--one that, while in retreat around the world, still has many adherents. A thought-provoking work of history and social criticism, The Black Book of Communism fully merits the broadest possible readership and discussion. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

In France, this damning reckoning of communism's worldwide legacy was a bestseller that sparked passionate arguments among intellectuals of the Left. Essentially a body count of communism's victims in the 20th century, the book draws heavily from recently opened Soviet archives. The verdict: communism was responsible for between 85 million and 100 million deaths in the century. In France, both sales and controversy were fueled, as Martin Malia notes in the foreword, by editor Courtois's specific comparison of communism's "class genocide" with Nazism's "race genocide." Courtois, the director of research at the prestigious Centre Research National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and editor of the journal Communisme, along with the other distinguished French and European contributors, delivers a fact-based, mostly Russia-centered wallop that will be hard to refute: town burnings, mass deportations, property seizures, family separations, mass murders, planned faminesAall chillingly documented from conception to implementation. The book is divided into five sections. The first and largest takes readers from the "Paradoxes of the October Revolution" through "Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System" to "The Exit from Stalinism." Seeing the U.S.S.R. as "the cradle of all modern Communism," the book's other four sections document the horrors of the Iron Curtain countries, Soviet-backed agitation in Asia and the Americas, and the Third World's often violent embrace of the system. A conclusionA"Why?"Aby Courtois, points to a bureaucratic, "purely abstract vision of death, massacre and human catastrophe" rooted in Lenin's compulsion to effect ideals by any means necessary. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 858 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674076087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674076082
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

334 of 353 people found the following review helpful By C. Yu on May 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Many people who do not like this book attacked that the statistics or estimations are inflated. Take Cambodia as an example. I visited S21 a few years ago. Some said 2 millions were killed by Pol Pot, sme said 1.7 millions. Some Chinese scholars estimated that 80 millions died of non-natural causes under Mao's rule; 50 millions were killed or oppressed to death during the Cultural Revolution alone. But some people dispute these figures. Let's say we give the preceding estimations a 90% "discount" : Only 20 thousands (= 2 millions X 10%) were massacred by Pol Pot and only 8 millions (80 millions X 10%) by Mao. But, these "discounted" figures are still horrible! The only way to explain "away" these crimes is to argue that anti-right movement, Great leap forward, cultural revolution, Gulag, S21... and many others never happen. If a girl was raped by a gang, it doesn't matter whether she was raped 5 times or 50 times. The only way to dismiss the case is to say that the girl is a liar. But, I am not a lair. And many Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians... who experienced the suffering are not liars. Unlike some anti-Capitalist or anti-American critics who are enjoying luxary and freedom in the Capitalist America, those people who speak the truth spent many years in jail or lost virtually everything, including their home. I keep remembering in 1989 right after June 4, my parents told me not to come home... Please don't just focus on quantitative methodology (numbers). Numbers alone cannot tell the whole story.
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405 of 434 people found the following review helpful By The Sanity Inspector on November 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
First, understand that this is not a popular or literary work, but an accounting ledger of the casualties of 20th century communism. Once you understand that this is not _Darkness At Noon_ or _Dr. Zhivago_, you can accept it and its horrifyingly high numbers as intended. The authors have taken advantage of the opened KGB archives to track down the details of hundreds of repressions and atrocities committed by the Soviet power in the name of their ideology. They do the same for other communist regimes like Cuba and China without the benefit of archival materials. The fact that they still have to round the death tolls to the nearest thousand in many cases firmly makes the authors' controversial point: Communism is the most murderous idea ever devised. One of the authors asserts that communism is not one whit a lesser evil than nazism. It lasted longer, immiserated and killed more people, and had more friends in influential western institutions, no matter that the repressions and killings were class-based rather than race-based. The book has two generous photo-inserts, to make the text's point more immediately. The arrival of this book, along with _Venona_, _The Haunted Wood_, and _The Shield and The Sword_, gives heartening evidence that the murderous truth about the Communist era may finally seep into the general consciousness, if not yet into the politically correct recesses of tenured radicaldom. Here are the facts--hereafter, ignorance about communism is strictly voluntary.
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269 of 289 people found the following review helpful By sid1gen on March 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book could have been a lot longer. It could not have been any shorter, though: it takes a brick of a book to really provide the crushing scope of this murderous ideology, and the authors have slowly, methodically, relentlessly added example after example to put in display, naked, a monster that killed tens of millions in the 20th Century and that will continue to kill (one hopes in a far smaller scale) in the 21st until it wastes itself out and vanishes. Communism became religion and state and proceeded to murder away as if the body count meant better chances of achieving that utopian society it pretended to aim at. We now know the absolute disasters that all Communist societies were -and are-, but this book is necessary as a ready reference work on evil that should be next to to William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." Communism has managed to kill more than 100 million people, and this estimate is actually quite conservative: Solzhenitsyn puts the figure at 60 million in the former Soviet Union alone; Roy Medvedev opts for 40 million dead just under Stalin, not counting those who died because of World War II. Nobody really knows how many millions were murdered by Mao. Many historians and writers had told us parts of this sad tale: Milovan Djilas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest, W.S. Kuniczak, Aino Kuusinen, Armando Valladares, Roy Medvedev, Dmitri Volkogonov, and others, so many, indeed, that a complete list would require several pages. But the authors of "The Black Book of Communism" do what none of the other authors had done before: they provide us with a total view of malignity, proving that, from Russia to Korea, from China to Cuba, from Africa to Europe, Communism was, indeed, a cancer. An excellent and necessary work.
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122 of 129 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who harbors delusions that communism/socialism, if only applied correctly, would solve all ills, should read this book. In every instance communism/socialism results in the gulag and extermination camps. I heard Kurt Vonnegut speak at U.C. Irvine a few years ago, and he said, "communism is a good system, it just happens that in the Soviet Union, the system was run by a bunch of crooks." Vonnegut--whose books are published by a capitalist conglomerate--is a first-rate novelist, but I hope he reads this book, and gets it through his head that the communist SYSTEM ITSELF is what is rotten. This book wears on the soul after a bit, because SO MUCH death and torture and incarcertation resulted in all communist systems. But one should feel a bit worn down when reading this book, because it means you are feeling the impact of what millions upon millions have suffered.
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